Preparatory committee weighs problems of children in armed conflict, sexual exploitation of children

Preparatory Committee for the HR/4540

Special Session of the General Assembly 12 June 2001

On the Children s World Summit

3rd Meeting (AM)

Children and armed conflict and the commercial sexual exploitation of children were the focus of two panel discussions held this morning by the Preparatory Committee for the special session of the General Assembly for follow-up to the 1990 World Summit for Children, as it continued its third substantive session.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Gu henno said that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been giving increasing attention to the issues of child rights and protection in response to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children, both as perpetrators and victims of violence in recent years. It currently had two peacekeeping missions — in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — that had child-specific mandates and child protection advisers to ensure the integration of those issues in the peacekeeping and peace-building processes.

The Department, he added, had also included training on child rights as part of the induction orientation for all peacekeeping personnel. It also had a code of conduct for peacekeepers, which included clear instructions on the protection of children’s rights and a zero-tolerance policy of abuse. To build on progress made, he suggested the establishment of an informal inter-agency working group to evaluate the lessons learned to date and to discuss how to support future efforts.

Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, stressed making the protection of children a national priority in all countries. Also crucial was for the international community to provide greater support for demobilization and reintegration efforts, as well as for the work of civil society groups on the ground. He urged Member States to ensure that the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force by the beginning of the special session, to be held from 19 to 21 September.

In a lively debate that followed the panel presentations, speakers shared their national, institutional and personal experiences in relation to the problem of children in conflict and spoke about various aspects of the phenomenon as addressed by regional structures. Several delegates said that the section of the final document on protection of children in armed conflict should point out how the children could be supported and helped.

Preparatory Committee – 1a – Press Release HR/4540

3rd Meeting (AM) 12 June 2001

It was also noted that the theme of children in armed conflict should take its rightful place in all deliberations of the Security Council, for the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict was of paramount importance. The role of civil society was as crucial as international cooperation in that respect. Speakers stressed the need to implement all existing instruments for child protection, and called for special efforts to ensure that the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict came into force before the special session.

On the commercial sexual exploitation of children, Vitit Muntarbhorn, Professor at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, said that there remained a marked gap between the existing legal instruments and their weak implementation. He proposed that the international community aim for specific actions, including targeted implementation measures. Also, governments should give concrete meaning to child participation in stopping the exploitation of children and should address, in a concerted manner, the environment surrounding exploitation, including poverty and the misuse of technology.

Sybil Nandie Msezane, from End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT), South Africa, said that her non-governmental organization (NGO) encouraged young people to write to their governments to eliminate child exploitation, prostitution and pornography. The NGO also planned to start a project on child trafficking. It was hoping to work with law enforcement agencies in the countries involved, and to keep a database to exchange the young people s expertise in different regions. It was through child participation that children s rights would be realized.

While the efforts of governments primarily focused on legislation, said Cherry Kingsley of Save the Children, Canada, children were being punished for a way of life which was forced on them. It should not be profitable to buy and sell children. It was a multi-billion dollar industry, in which hotels and restaurants were often involved. In building services to help children who had suffered from exploitation, child participation was crucial.

The other panellists this morning were Roger Laloupo, Director of Legal Affairs, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Maria Marta Valladares, Parliamentarian from El Salvador; Gencer Oswaldo Geron Santamaria, youth delegate from Colombia; Karin Landgren, Chief, Protection Section, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Claire Brisset, Ombudsperson from France; and Makiko Arima, Personal Representative of the Prime Minister of Japan.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p. m. today to continue its discussion of the report of the Secretary-General, entitled “We the Children”.

Background

This morning, the Preparatory Committee for the General Assembly s special session on children, to be held in September this year, was expected to hold two panel discussions:on children in armed conflict; and on commercial sexual exploitation of children. The panellists for the former would include the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu; Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Gu henno; Youth Advocate from Colombia, Gencer Oswaldo Geron Santamaria; Parliamentarian from El Salvador, Maria Marta Valladares; and Director of Legal Affairs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Roger Laloupo.

The second panel would consist of the Chief of Protection Section of the Programme Division of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Karin Landgren; Professor of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, Vitit Muntarbhorn; a representative of ECPAT, South Africa, Sybil Nandie Msezane; Cherry Kingsley of Save the Children, Canada; France s Ombudsperson, Claire Brisset; and the Personal Representative of the Prime Minister of Japan, Makiko Arima.

Panel Discussion on Children in Armed Conflict

Opening the session, OLARA A. OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, stressed the importance of the issue, saying that children exposed to war were among the most vulnerable groups in the world. There were many such children in many countries, and their fate compromised the future of those societies. Systematic work to address the question of children in armed conflict was one of the main accomplishments achieved since the 1990 Summit for Children. He believed that if the international community took full advantage of the momentum on the issue at the special session, it stood a good chance to make a real difference on the ground, apart from all the declarations and conventions. Those factors compelled the Preparatory Committee to ensure that the issue of children in armed conflict should become the focus of attention at the special session.

ROGER LALOUPO, Director of Legal Affairs, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), highlighted some of the measures taken by ECOWAS with regard to children and armed conflict. Among the States currently involved in armed conflict were Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. The end of conflict should also mean the end of the child soldier phenomenon. The ECOWAS had set up several political mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes, including a moratorium on the import, export and production of small arms and a declaration on child soldiers adopted on 25 March 1999.

Since ECOWAS was convinced that the issue of child soldiers could only be adequately addressed on a subregional level, it had set up a Bureau for the Protection of Children, financed by Canada, to monitor children affected by armed conflict and monitor their rehabilitation and reintegration in the post-conflict phase. The Bureau would make an effective contribution towards making young people aware that an armed band could not replace their families and make them happy. It would also help finance the demobilization and rehabilitation of former child soldiers, as well as assist the leaders of the region to maintain the political will to comply with all the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

JEAN-MARIE GU HENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been giving increasing attention to the issues of child rights and protection in response to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children, both as perpetrators and victims of violence in recent years. That had been done at an internal, as well as interdepartmental and inter-agency, level.

The Department’s active commitment to that issue began in 1999 through consultations with Mr. Otunnu’s Office, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies, he said. Their first collaboration focused on the process of incorporating child rights and protection into peacekeeping mandates and staffing tables. As a result, a policy was established to review each mission on a case-by-case basis to determine the need for child protection advisers and the role they should play. Currently, two missions, in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had child-specific mandates and child protection advisers to ensure the integration of those issues in the peacekeeping and peace-building processes.

Among the activities of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was ensuring the release of child combatants by the rebel movement and their subsequent handover to child protection agencies. To date, more than 800 children had been released and more children were awaiting handover. It was also advocating community-based reintegration programmes for children, including family tracing and reunification. The Department was engaging in similar efforts and activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the recruitment, training and utilization of children as combatants continued to be a serious concern.

The issue of child rights, he said, was a high priority for the Department. It had included training on the rights of the child and their protection as part of the induction orientation for all peacekeeping personnel. There was also a Code of Conduct for United Nations peacekeepers, which included clear instructions regarding the protection of children’s rights and a zero tolerance policy of abuse. To build on progress made, he suggested that an informal inter-agency working group be established to evaluate the lessons learned to date, and to discuss how efforts might be supported in the future, particularly at the negotiation stage.

GENCER OSWALDO GERON SANTAMARIA, Youth Advocate from Colombia, said thathe wanted to share his experiences as a member of the youth group Return to Happiness, supported by UNICEF in Colombia. The group s task was to help the recovery of children marked by acts of violence and those displaced as a result of conflict. The children of Colombia were tired of all the social injustices, abuse and violations of human rights. Peace in his country would not be possible if children and youth were not separated from the armed conflict.

The Colombian Children s Movement for Peace had been born in 1996, he continued, with participation of 2. 7 million children. The Movement looked to build up the leading role of children, who could play an important social role. Considering the possibilities of their contribution to the achievement of true and lasting peace, the view of the children affected by armed conflict deserved special attention. He believed that a very important step forward so far had been giving children an opportunity to express their feelings. Adults should listen to the opinions of youth movements and create spaces for youth participation in peace processes and negotiations.

Because of violence, children s normal development was impeded, he continued, and they became aggressive. Children involved in conflict should receive obligatory, free and high-quality basic education. In regions abandoned by the Government, like Putumayo, that right was not fulfilled. Instead of going to school, children there must work to support their families. Most parents had to sacrifice their own subsistence in order to pay high education enrolment and tuition fees. Without proper education, however, nothing would change.

MARIA MARTA VALLADARES, Parliamentarian from El Salvador, shared with the delegates her experience as a former commander of a guerrilla movement. She had worked for social justice in her country, and now she was a Member of Parliament. Her own son had been born during the conflict. He did not take part in the war directly, but he suffered as a result of the war:his father had been killed, and he had been sent abroad at the age of three. When the conflict started, the children were the first victims, having to deal with capture, destruction and death. There were still over 2,000 children missing following the conflict in her country. She knew children captured or wounded in combat at an early age.

It was hard to justify children s participation in the conflict, she said. Following the war, the special situation of children needed to be taken into account. El Salvador had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, but, initially, the peace talks in El Salvador had not addressed the issues of children, and demobilized minors did not enjoy special reintegration programmes. As a result of subsequent negotiations to address their problems, mothers and fathers who had lost their children in conflict had received economic compensation. However, the lack of resources devoted to children had had a negative impact on the situation in the country.

Programmes to improve juvenile justice and to improve the situation of street children were among the efforts undertaken in the country now, she continued. Specific topics that should have been dealt with during the peace negotiations included crimes against children, and the Commission on Truth could have revealed more about their fate. More information could have been collected about their families. Social rehabilitation and promotion of the rights of children were important, and the problems of orphans should have been addressed, with emphasis on education and social insertion. Other countries needed to learn from El Salvador s experience. The question of children in the post-conflict era also should be taken into account, and measures should be taken to prevent violence against children.

Discussion

In the discussion that followed, several speakers stressed the need for those States that had not already done so to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol relating to children and armed conflict. A non-governmental organization (NGO) representative said that while 80 States to date had signed the Optional Protocol, the rate of ratification had been disappointingly slow. At that rate, the

10 ratifications necessary to bring the Protocol into force in time for the special session were doubtful.

Another speaker noted that the paradox of the last decade was that while it had been marked by several milestones such as the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it had also seen an increase in the outbreak of violence and attacks on the physical and moral integrity of children. She appealed to the international community to ratify the Optional Protocol and work to fight against the displacement of children both between and within countries.

While the targeting of children by armed groups should be condemned, stated one speaker, the international community had stood passive in several recent cases. Cutting the limbs off children was a gross violation of humanitarian law, as were the abduction and use of children as soldiers. He expressed support for the proposal for an inter-agency working group to examine recommendations and determine future measures. While the first step was to prevent the outbreak of conflict, also necessary were steps such as better training on children’s rights for all military personnel and the prevention of hate media.

On the outcome document for the special session, an NGO representative said that while she was pleased that the components dealing with children and armed conflict had been strengthened in the revision process, she was concerned that the provisions were not as strong as those contained in Security Council resolutions on the issue. For example, statements about ensuring access to children would be stronger if they reinforced the right of children to receive assistance. Also, monitoring was not enough. Children threatened by war needed international action if their own governments were not able or willing to protect their rights.

Speakers also shared their national, institutional and personal experiences in relation to the problem of children in conflict, and spoke about various aspects of the phenomenon as addressed by regional structures. In particular, that question had been recently considered by the special session of the

Pan-African Forum on the situation of children.

Several important aspects of the problem were pointed out by a child who had been abducted during the conflict in Uganda, who said that children like her needed to be supported in order to be reintegrated in society. They needed counselling, they needed to be listened to, they needed to be informed about their human rights, and they needed to be protected. Several delegates said that the section of the final document on protection of children in armed conflict could be strengthened, pointing out how children could be supported and helped.

A speaker also said that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should participate in the proposed inter-disciplinary group on children in armed conflict. It was pointed out that the international community should recognize recruitment of children under 18 as a crime against humanity. The theme of children in armed conflict should take its rightful place in all deliberations of the Security Council, for the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict was of paramount importance. Also crucial was the role of civil society.

It was a paradox that despite numerous conventions, the number of conflicts was proliferating, a country representative said. Important answers could be received if the international community asked an important question:who benefits from war?

It was important to ensure compliance with existing international instruments, a speaker pointed out, and Security Council resolutions relating to children in armed conflict must be strictly observed. Deep roots of conflict needed to be addressed in order to avoid children and women paying a heavy price.

The very existence of the problem of child soldiers was a shameful indictment against the international community which allowed it to persist, a speaker said. Everybody was aware of the magnitude of resources wasted as a result of conflict. It was important to stop wars and use those resources for post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.

In closing the discussion, Mr. OTUNNU underscored the importance of the rehabilitation of children subjected to war, which should become a national priority for the countries concerned. Also needed was international support for post-conflict reconstruction. Of special importance were education of children and health services for the victims of war. Efforts at the subregional level needed to be emphasized. It was also important to ensure that the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict came into force before the special session in September.

Continuing, he underscored the special vulnerability of young girls, who were used as concubines and subjected not only to humiliation, but also to the danger of HIV/AIDS. The role of local communities and civil society organizations also needed to be emphasized. They were truly an under-used resource. He also agreed with the need to ensure active participation of youth in the movement for the protection of children.

A point had been made in the discussion, he said, that unless pressure was put on those who recruited and used children as soldiers and abused them, and unless a system of monitoring was put into place, the words uttered in protection of children would come to naught. Collective action was needed to draw the lessons from countries experiences. The international community would make a historic mistake if it failed to take advantage of the momentum built for the protection of children in armed conflict.

Panel on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

KARIN LANDGREN, Chief, Protection Section, UNICEF, said it was striking how many times over the last decade the international community had reiterated the unlawfulness of the sexual exploitation of children. It was unlawful under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, as well as ILO Convention 182. Nearly five years after the Stockholm Congress on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, that phenomenon was “widespread and growing”. She hoped the panellists would elaborate on how to use the existing instruments to make a practical difference in the lives of those children who were being used for sex.

VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Professor at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, said that the commercial sexual exploitation of children included three aspects — child prostitution, child pornography and child trafficking for sexual purposes. The Convention on the Rights of the Child had stipulated various measures to protect children to be taken at the national, regional and international levels. The Stockholm Declaration had also advocated measures such as the criminalization of perpetrators and the non-criminalization of child victims. The upcoming Yokohama Congress would provide an opportunity to take stock of what had been done so far.

There remained a marked gap between the existing legal instruments and their weak implementation, he said. Among the measures he proposed were to utilize the momentum of the special session and aiming for specificity of action, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol and targeted implementation measures. Also, governments should give concrete meaning to child participation in stopping the exploitation of children and address, in a concerted manner, the environment surrounding exploitation, including poverty and the misuse of technology. Further, governments should not penalize child victims and provide child-friendly centres to assist them.

In addition, he stressed the importance of involving key actors in child protection through joint actions with NGOs, the private sector and the media, as well as cooperating more strongly in mobilizing resources, both financial and non-financial.

SYBIL NANDIE MSEZANE, of ECPAT, South Africa, said she worked for a leading NGO focused on sexual exploitation of children. Youth participation was needed to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children, as the issue directly concerned them. It was also important to build a base of future activists, who were adequately trained. One of the projects in which she was involved concerned forming partnerships to improve children s welfare. The organization also documented experiences of children and encouraged youth participation in its work. Public information, training and media relations were also important components of its work.

An international young people s conference had been held in Manila in May, she continued, which produced a declaration, according to which all measures needed to be taken to stop sexual exploitation of young people. The participants of the event also demanded a part in decision-making on the issues that directly affected their lives, saying that it was imperative that the voice of youth was heard.

She went on to say that her organization encouraged young people to write to their governments to eliminate child exploitation, prostitution and pornography. The NGO also planned to start a project on child trafficking. It was hoping to work with law enforcement agencies in the countries involved and keep a data base to exchange the young people s expertise in different regions. It was through child participation that children s rights would be realized.

CHERRY KINGSLEY, of Save the Children, Canada, said that the issue under discussion was of deep personal importance to her. She had suffered from sexual exploitation as a child, and she understood the urgency of addressing the issue. Children were especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation because of poverty, racism and hunger. Many children exchanged sexual favours for such basic things as food and shelter.

She went on to say that while the efforts of the governments primarily focused on legislation, the children were being punished for the way of life, which was forced on them. It should not be profitable to buy and sell children. It was a multi-billion dollar industry, in which hotels and restaurants were often involved. It was necessary to build services to help children who had suffered from exploitation. Young people should be involved in articulating their points of view and their needs. Participation was also important, because it was healing.

CLAIRE BRISSET, Ombudsperson from France, first commented on the situation of exploited children in France today. She noted that it was extremely difficult to evaluate the sexual exploitation of children, due to two factors — denial and the ban on such activities. From police sources, it was determined that there were about 15,000 prostitutes in France, many of whom were foreigners, with

2,000 being added every year. There were several differences noted between the exploitation of girls and boys. Girls submitted themselves to more demeaning and degrading forms of sexual violence than boys due to a greater need for money, while boys seemed to want protection more.

In industrialized countries, she continued, the majority of sexual activity against children was not commercial, but rather took place within families. Recently, there had been an increase in the number of rapes of minors. Of extreme concern was that the majority of them were committed against children under the age of 15 and by an older relative. What was absent from that research was information on the abuser. According to information from Scotland Yard, 75 per cent of such perpetrators were married and 65 per cent of them were from the middle class. France had a law under which French citizens could be penalized for acts of sexual exploitation committed abroad.

To improve the situation, she proposed the creation of a European unit for collecting data and statistics on the issue. Secondly, it was necessary to reaffirm the criminal nature of the activity. Europe did not speak with a unified voice, due to lack of homogeneity on the law whereby citizens of one country could be penalized for acts committed abroad. Further, the age of consent for sexual activities should be reconsidered, with protection extended until the age of 18. Victims should be considered as victims and cease being the subjects of stigmatization and penalization. In addition, it was time to open debate on other aspects of sexual exploitation of children, such as forms of non-commercial exploitation which take place within the family.

MAKIKO ARIMA, Personal Representative of the Prime Minister of Japan, informed delegates about the second world congress against sexual exploitation of children, to be held in Yokohama in December this year. The congress would be hosted by her Government, in cooperation with several international agencies. As children s participation was very important, the Government welcomed young people s input in the work of the congress. The congress was a follow-up to the event held in 1996 in Stockholm. Its purpose was to review progress in combating sexual exploitation of children and identify future actions in that respect.

She went on to say that among the main themes of the congress were child pornography; prevention, protection and recovery of children from sexual exploitation; trafficking in children; involvement of the private sector; and the profile of the sex exploiter. Besides plenary meetings, the four-day congress would include panel discussions, workshops and parallel events. Japan would encourage wide participation from governments, civil organizations, NGOs and international society.

Several speakers in the ensuing debate stressed the importance of various actors participation in raising awareness of the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Concerted international action was needed to eliminate that phenomenon.

Given their specific needs, children required special protection and treatment, a speaker said. Poverty and the breakdown of parental authority were mentioned among the main reasons for sexual exploitation of children, and governments were encouraged to take measures to help the children.

Despite the fact that most States had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, violence against children was continuing, a speaker said. Despite the great costs of rehabilitation of children, it was necessary to urgently address the problem. The action plan to be approved by the Preparatory Committee should include measures towards that effect.

No country could win the fight against commercial exploitation of children alone, another speaker pointed out. It was only through international cross-border efforts that the international community could succeed. As an example, she noted the fact that Sweden and Norway had created a forum to share information and fight against child sexual exploitation. The Philippines, Sweden and Thailand were also involved in a joint project to combat trafficking in women and children. It was important to involve in the relevant programmes qualified specialists, including therapists to treat the children. The Internet could be used for online consultations.

At the national level, countries should review their penal legislation to bring it into conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was pointed out. It was important to sign and ratify the optional protocols to that Convention. Sexual offences against children should be extraterritorial, and countries should establish list of offenders against children. Among the regional efforts mentioned in this respect was an upcoming meeting on the issue to be held in Morocco this year.

A speaker said that sex tourism was a major problem in the world today, which would not have been possible in the absence of demand from rich countries. It was important to change the attitude towards sex tourism through provision of relevant information and awareness-raising. The money paid for the services of the children did not justify their mistreatment.

Also mentioned in the debate were violence and sexual abuse within the family and schools; the role of the media in mobilizing the much-needed resources; and sanctions against perpetrators.